With Donald Trump’s “finished” wall at the Mexican border, how is it possible that thousands of migrants are illegally crossing into the country, as Republicans and right-wing media point out is happening on a daily basis?
Such is the are-you-going-to-believe-me-or-your-lying-eyes problem for the coup-attempting former president as he simultaneously argues that he kept his 2016 campaign’s signature promise while also claiming that illegal immigration is out of control.
Unlike most of his falsehoods about NATO or trade agreements or the condition of the economy during his tenure that are difficult to fact-check by the average voter, the lack of a “big beautiful wall” along the southern border is constantly proven anew in television footage aired relentlessly on Fox News and other outlets.
“He left hundreds of miles of border without a fence, Mexico paid for nothing, and our military families suffered,” said Jennifer Horn, a former chair of the New Hampshire state GOP. “But it will not impact his standing in the primary unless his opponents grow the courage to call him out on his failures.”
Trump’s campaign did not respond to HuffPost queries on this topic.
Based on recent statements, however, he appears to have settled on the brazen lie that he followed through on his most famous pledge of the 2016 campaign. At a “town hall” sponsored for him by CNN earlier this month, Trump repeatedly claimed that he completed his project.
“I did finish the wall. I built a wall,” Trump said. “And then I said, we have to build some more because there are areas like water going through a dam. There are some areas where a lot of people are coming. You close up one and they come into another. And we started another 100 miles of wall.”
Migrants walk along the banks of the Rio Bravo river after crossing the border to turn themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents before the lifting of Title 42, as seen from Matamoros, Mexico, on May 11.
It was unclear how, if he had “finished” a border wall, migrants would nevertheless be coming in “like water going through a dam.”
In any event, his claim that he had kept his 2016 campaign promise is untrue on multiple levels.
From the time he announced his run at his Trump Tower building in Manhattan in June 2015, Trump’s favorite promise for his followers was that he would not only build a wall, but force Mexico to pay for it.
“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively,” Trump said in in his announcement speech. “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
Trump on several occasions went into great detail on the construction standards, describing how it would be at least 30 feet tall and extend deep underground to prevent people from tunneling beneath it.
“It’s going to be made of hardened concrete, and it’s going to be made out of rebar. That’s steel,” Trump said at a December 2015 visit to Manassas, Virginia, in response to a question from a young boy in the audience. “And we’re going to set it in nice, heavy foundations.”
Of equal importance in the promise was to force Mexico to pay, both as a way to humiliate the nation’s neighbor to the south as well as a pledge to voters not to use American taxpayer dollars on the project.
But both elements of the promise began to crumble soon after he took office. Within weeks, Trump spoke to then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and told him he had no intention of forcing Mexico to pay for a border wall, but that he needed Peña not to mention that publicly so Trump would not anger his supporters. “You cannot say that to the press,” he said, according to a transcript of the call obtained by The Washington Post. “If you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that.”
And even though both the House and Senate were controlled by Republicans during his first two years, Trump made virtually no effort in that time to press for border wall funding. Instead, the Department of Homeland Security stayed with a program started under Republican President George W. Bush and continued under Democrat Barack Obama to replace deteriorating sections of old fencing with new, 18- to 30-foot steel bollards.
Indeed, Trump did not get serious about winning congressional funding for his wall until after Democrats won back the House in 2018 after picking up dozens of seats, thanks to Trump’s unpopularity. Trump forced a partial government shutdown in an attempt to win wall funding, but eventually gave up and decided to raid the military’s construction budget, diverting billions of dollars intended for housing, schools and daycare for service members and their families to his border wall instead.
By the end of his four years in office, Trump delivered all of 52 miles of new fence where no barrier had previously existed — a far cry from his original promise of a “big beautiful wall” along the entirely of the 1,954-mile southern border. An additional 400 miles of older, existing barrier was replaced with the new, taller steel bollard fencing — just as old barrier had been replaced over the previous two presidencies.
“Not only couldn’t he get Mexico to pay for it, he couldn’t get a Republican Congress to pay for it,” said Rick Tyler, a former top aide in Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 bid for the GOP nomination.
But despite Trump’s easily proven failure to deliver on his top campaign promise over the course of four years, most of his GOP rivals — all of whom say the United States must get tougher on border security — thus far do not seem inclined to point out Trump’s record on the matter.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, on March 30 said at a Georgia visit: “We’ve talked a lot, but I think we need to get serious and finally build a wall along the southern border” — but did not mention the obvious point that the front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination failed to build one.
An adviser to one of the GOP hopefuls, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said attacking Trump on the border wall would be difficult because voters understand that he wanted to build one but that he could not overcome the obstacles placed in his way. “There are better attacks,” the aide said, pointing to Trump’s recent comments disparaging anti-abortion activists and his inability to control government spending.
The only candidate or likely candidate to attack Trump on the wall appears to be former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “More nonsense from Donald Trump last night,” Christie wrote in a social media post the morning after the CNN town hall. “Fact: He promised to build a big beautiful wall on the border. Fact: He did not deliver & immigrants are pouring over the border. Fact: He said Mexico would pay for it. Fact: We have not gotten one peso yet. He failed us on immigration.”
Trump critics, including former Republican officials, said other candidates are not likely to criticize Trump so directly unless and until Republican primary voters signal that they are no longer willing to accept Trump’s falsehoods.
“The truth is, GOP primary voters have already made it clear that they don’t care about his lies. They will stand with him till the end,” Horn said.
David Axelrod, a Democratic consultant who helped Obama win the White House in 2008, said the loyalty of Trump’s base continues to confound him. “The man has been indicted, found liable for sexual assault and defamation and is clearly in the crosshairs of other probes, and he has only gained ground in recent months,” Axelrod said. “To his base, it may be that if he says there’s a wall, there’s a wall — and anyone who suggests otherwise is engaged in ‘fake news.’”
Trump, who tried to use the threat of violence and then actual violence on Jan. 6, 2021, to remain in power despite losing reelection, is under criminal investigation for his post-election actions by prosecutors in both Georgia and at the Department of Justice. He is separately under DOJ investigation for his refusal to turn over top-secret documents he had been keeping at his Florida country club in defiance of a subpoena, and has already been indicted in New York City for falsifying business records in his attempt to hide a $130,000 payment to a porn star in the days ahead of the 2016 election. He nevertheless remains the polling leader for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.